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Refreshed VW Golf 'Mk7.5' driven: Is the SA-bound GTD the new black?

98eMallorca, Spain - When I first read about the Mallorca (also known as Majorca), one of Spain's beautiful Balearic Islands, I was mesmerised by the thought of driving the facelifted Volkswagen Golf 7 through stone-built villages, beach resorts and a great nightlife.

Obviously those reviews weren't written in winter. Mallorca is starting to thaw this time of year, so the weather isn't completely awful and the stone-built villages are no disappointment at all. The fact that the little towns of Palma, Campos and Fornalutx seemed deserted was actually a blessing in disguise.

Enter the updated Golf, the most successful car in Europe, according to Volkswagen, and a best-seller in South Africa too. The most special thing about this 'Golfie' is that in its 40-year history, this '7.5' version is the very first time the automaker has given the car a 'mid-life' update instead of a new generation.

According to VW, one new Golf is made on the assembly line every 40 seconds, with almost 1-million being built every year. And although this is just an 'updated version', the Golf has been overhauled.

The automaker describes the latest offering as this: "Sharpened design, ingenious assistance systems, state-of-the-art engines, new infotainment systems and features." 

The traffic-free roads, surrounded by beautiful citrus plantations, meant we could sample the refreshed Golf in all its glory on quiet roads, albeit populated with cyclist groups, it made for great driving.

The Golf derivatives available on the launch included: 2.0-litre TSI GTI with 169kW; 2.0-litre TDI GTD with 135kW, 1.5-litre TSI with 110kW, as well as a 2.0-litre TDI with 110kW.

The first Golf GTD (turbodiesel) was first launched in 1982, and its exciting that VW SA has finally decided to bring the GTD here, but more about that later.

So in all, it comprises three trim lines (Trendline, Comfortline and Highline), six derivatives (GTI, GTD, GTE, R, e-Golf and Alltrack) and three body versions, and an additional version (Sportsvan) which we won't be seeing in SA. We also won't be receiving the GTE, e-Golf and Alltrack.

South Africa will receive the Golf R, and the new GTD here in May, while the 1.0-litre, 1.-4-litre and the GTI arrives later in SA during July.

The launch was focused on the new 1.5-litre engine from VW, but we won't be seeing that anytime soon, at least not until the 1.4-litre is completely phased out.

We will however receive new body colours, including the beautiful 'tumeric yellow' - which looks somewhat similar to a particular BMW M colour. 

Quite a few things actually, and it's a good indication of what's to come from Volkswagen. There are some obvious styling changes and loads more technology compared to the outgoing version

The biggest change outside the exterior is the new bumpers, headlights and LED tail lights.

The radiator grille and headlights are more prominent thanks to the chrome strip which now stretches right across, making everything look more aligned. The front assist and auto cruise control radar sensor which used to be visible in the air intake on the bumper, is now hidden behind the VW badge.

There is also new optional trapezoidal chrome trims integrated into the diffuser and the legendary red strip in the radiator grille of the GTI is even more distinctive with a red and chrome crossbar of the grille which carries through to the LED dual headlight winglets.

The Golf has entered a new era with the interior being digitalised with personalised screens and intuitive gesture control.

The new Discover Pro radio, navigation and online system can be operated by gesture control via the 23cm screen and works in conjunction with the new Active Info Display.

The 31cm colour instrument cluster screen is digitised too with five profiles to choose from: Classic, Consumption and Range, Efficiency, Performance & Driver Assistance, and Navigation. It can also display telephone contact images and CD covers.

Volkswagen claim it now uses a new generation Modular Infotainment Matrix system while the Discover Pro - VW’s new flagship infotainment has a configurable home screen.

Some of the new technology aimed at improving safety, includes: City Emergency Braking with new pedestrian monitoring (Front Assist), Traffic Jam Assist (semi-automated driving up to 60km/h), and Emergency Assist.

Although the refreshed Golf Mk7.5 looks great with its subtle new styling and traits, the GTI, albeit 7kW more powerful at 169kW than the current version (162kW), still feels the same when driving. It's not to say the GTI is a disappointment, it never will be as long as there are fanboys and girls.

I say this though only because the new 2.0-litre GTD is a great package. In other words, a diesel version of the GTI, but with more torque. It's the derivative of choice if you're planning on buying a new Golf when it arrives here, well at least it would be for me.

Its 2.0-litre engine delivers 135kW with 380Nm compared to 350Nm in the GTI. It hardly sounds like a diesel car at all, and instead of that chugging gurgle, it has a vivacious growl that's addictive, and with that extra torque, it makes up for the missing power difference from the GTI. Overtaking is easy, the GTD is always willing and ready for spirited driving from its seamless new 7-speed DSG box. The new box apparently reduces fuel consumption by 0.3 litres/100km says VW.

It’s thrilling at valiant driving, sits in tight bends and holds it own when really putting it through its paces. It's a car to make you fall in love with a Golf - if you never have before.

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